September 18: Batumi, Georgia
9:07. It’s far too early to leave Batumi but unfortunately we have a schedule to follow and if we don’t get to the border before 10 a.m. we’ll be in trouble for overstaying our visa.
9:30. There are a number of money changers operating from small roadside shops near the border so we stop to get rid of our Georgian Lari (pronounce ‘Larry’) and get enough Turkish Lira for the first day. I find the shop with the best rate – which isn’t hard since they all offer the exact same rate – and I hand over about $50 worth of Georgian coins and bills. The old man slowly and very deliberately counts the money before passing two of the gold coloured coins back across the counter. I ask him why he accepts small change but not the 2 Lari coins. He looks puzzled. I take a closer look at the “toonies” and notice that the Georgian monarch has pigtails. She looks surprisingly like a girl from Columbus, Ohio. A girl named Wendy. I then realize that the coins are actually arcade tokens that I received yesterday with my Baconator and Frosty.
9:55. We arrive at the beachside border crossing between Georgia and Turkey. The two towns appear to be Sarpi and Sarp.
11:25. We have cleared customs in Turkey and are free to go. One hour and 35 minutes is our new record for a Silk Road border crossing.
11:40. There’s a noticeable change on this side of the border. The duty free shop is large and well stocked. The parking lot on the Turkish side has a beachfront cafe serving great coffee and good looking snacks. The chatty barista reminds me to set my watch back one hour. I doubt this would happen in Georgia.
13:05. We have a 186 km drive on a freshly paved four lane highway to the city of Trabzon. The buildings on the Turkish side of the border are much nicer as well. Decaying Soviet style concrete apartment blocks immediately give way to brightly coloured seaside condos. The hills are a lush green and even the beaches appear to be nicer.
15:00. I quickly decide that I also like Trabzon. The streets in the old city centre are teeming with fashionably dressed people and there isn’t a tourist in sight. At least there aren’t souvenir shops and there are plenty of hardware stores, butcher shops, appliance repair businesses, etc. Trabzon might not be as upscale as Baku (Azerbaijan) or even Batumi (Georgia) but it’s clean, pedestrian friendly, and buzzing!
16:30. I pop into a pharmacy to get something for lower back pain. The pharmacist understands my pantomime and hands over a package containing 10 pills. He marks something on the box that probably says “take twice daily” and then pantomimes eating. I ask if it’s okay to take a pill after recently having a glass of wine. He looks at me as if I have six heads and in broken English he says, “Why no wine? Why?”
With pain killers in hand I decide to try my luck and see if I can get an asthma inhaler without a prescription. He stocks Ventolin, not the no-name Russian brand that I got in Uzbekistan, and they’re only three Lira apiece. That’s about CA$1.30, or in other words about $34 cheaper than my drug plan paid in Torontoog. And unlike Ontario, no prescription is needed and you can buy as many as you can carry. I take five and walk out thinking that I just saved $170. This clearly calls for another glass of wine.